Ron Radosh

How Should Obama Deal with Iran?

With his recent message to Iran, President Barack Obama is certainly implementing a new style, if not a change, in American foreign policy.  As many commentators have pointed out,  Obama’s messages to Iran emphasized America’s need to not be arrogant, and stressed the great contributions of Iran to the world’s culture.

What the President failed to do is make any statements about what Iran would have to do to deserve respect, such as cease its persecution of religious minorities and cease the repressive cruelty Iran metes out to its enemies—be it whippings, hangings, application of Sharia Law and the like. As Daniel Henninger asks in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Will Islam Return Obama’s ‘Respect’?”  He goes on to treat the issue of how Christians are treated  in Islamic countries. The answer: not so good. “The ‘respect’ Mr. Obama promised,” Henninger points out, “is going only in one direction.”

In his message to Iran, Obama might have gone out of his way to single out the brave Iranians suffering in prison for their open espousal of democracy, or their brave decision to merely speak their own  point of view in public, or their practicing a religion of their own choice, not that of the Iranian state. Henninger suggests that Obama make tolerance of Christian sects a basis for arriving at common ground with Islam. Don’t hold your breath; were he to do that, his belief that the gap between America and the Islamic countries can be closed will not take place.

Now, a new report from correspondent Anuj Chopra in U.S. News highlights the secrecy and fear in which many Christian converts live with in today’s Iran. Her article reinforces the points made by Henninger.  Chopra’s chilling article tells of one man, a devout Christian, who publicly has to pretend to be and appear as a devout Muslim. He even has to go to weekly Friday prayers where he joins in chanting “Death to America.” He and his family converted a year ago from the Muslim faith, as they were seeking “a faith that offered the reassurances of freedom.”

Now the Iranian government has introduced a new law to mandate the death penalty for apostates from Islam, which would drastically change life for anyone who questions the official religious ideology of the regime. Death would be, she writes, “a fixed, irrevocable punishment,” which could be applied to not only Christians, but Bahais, Azeris and of course, Jews.

And writing in yesterday’s New York Times, the obsessed Roger Cohen again goes on a tirade. This time he accuses Israel of crying wolf, when it argues there is a threat that Iran will develop a nuclear bomb and use it against their country. His enemy now is Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he condemns for calling the leaders of Iran a “messianic apocalyptic cult.” He believes, as he has made clear almost every column, that Iran’s mullahs are motivated by “self-interest and survival.” This from a man who would undoubtedly apply the cult label to any of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox believers who live in some of the contested settlements. But of course, the term cannot be used for the mullahs.

As James Taranto writes in his rebuttal to Cohen in today’s WSJ, when the mullahs chant “death to Israel” and proclaim the need to eliminate the Jewish State, these ” ‘scurrilous anti-Israel tirades’ are meant in the same spirit as Cohen’s own anti-Israel columns: Merely to criticize Israel for doing bad things and encourage it to behave better.”

Not only does Cohen oppose “regime change” as a goal of American policy, he hopes Obama is moving toward “regime-recognizing.” Cohen, evidently, thinks this should take place without a  nod to the actual situation facing those who are repressed daily by that regime. We should make no quid pro quo as we move toward this goal, since Cohen believes the only reason Iran is seen as a danger is because our policy is “overwhelmingly titled in Jerusalem’s favor” because we appease Israel who wants Iran to be seen as a “monstrous pariah state bent on imminent nuclear war.” Or, as he puts it, “Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery.”

Support to the only democracy in the Middle East is seen as a danger by Cohen; and those who believe Iran will potentially be a serious nuclear threat – as Taranto points out, this includes the U.S. under Clinton, Bush and now Obama- our European allies, the IAEC and even some Arab nations-are all supposedly crying wolf. “Or,” Taranto quips, “have the Israelis managed to fool everyone except Roger Cohen into taking seriously a threat they know is phony?”

Cohen also knows- he assures his readers- that Iran is a “couple of years” away from developing the highly-enriched uranium needed to build a bomb. Who told him that, President Ahmadinejad?  Today, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, both Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Howard Dean- yes, liberal Howard Dean- emphasized that Iran is a threat and that we do not know how long Iran will take to get the enriched uranium.  Both men agreed that at that point, a line will be crossed that cannot be avoided in terms of taking action. And, both expressed complete assurance that negotiations with Iran will come to nothing. I guess they don’t have Roger Cohen’s advisor on national security to inform them.